Building on years of work, in 2012, conservative Republicans took control of both houses of the North Carolina legislature as well as the governor's office. The conservative coalition promptly did what one would expect -- they passed a budget that cut thousands of public school teachers and diverted funds to private school vouchers. They cut unemployment and Medicaid benefits -- and cut taxes for the wealthy. They passed legislation aimed at suppression of minority voters and young people and reduced access to abortion services.
This is the result of a well focused strategy launched in the 1980s aimed at making policy in the states in ways that would generally not be possible in Washington, DC. Among the pieces of the strategy are two national networks of business/libertarian and Religious Right think tanks. This has been followed by an effort to take state legislatures and governorships to create at this point, 22 one-party conservative Republican states. (There are 12 Democratic one party states and the rest are mixed.) Much has been written about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the model bills it produces on behalf of right wing and corporate interests. But of course the truth is that model bills cannot be passed unless you control legislatures and governorships. And here we are.
A broad coalition of resistance in North Carolina led by religious leaders, notably Reverend William Barber II, head of the state's NAACP has risen to meet this challenge. He has led more than 30 events called Moral Mondays in the capital city of Raleigh and in others across the state.
He has now invited the rest of us to join North Carolinians on February 8th in what he hopes will be the largest moral march since Martin Luther King Jr. led civil rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
They are asking us to blog (yes they are, I was on a conference call for bloggers with Rev. Barber and this post is the result.) And they are asking us to come. It looks to be an historic day -- and perhaps the beginning of the kind of response to the long march of the Religious and Political Right to power that could begin to turn the tide. Barber says he expects tens of thousands of marchers, and that he knows of people coming from at least 18 states.
Some years ago, some of us came together to put together Talk to Action, a group blog site where we could write about the Religious Right and where such things as reproductive justice, LGTBQ rights and separation of church and state would be viewed as central values. A few years later, some of us came together to produce a book called Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America which also adhered to these values at a time when others thought it was acceptable to downplay or negotiate them away in pursuit of short term political gain. We were also acutely aware of the need for greater involvement of religious progressives in electoral politics, recognizing that if the playing field were left to the Religious Right we would get ever more theocratic government. The late Bob Edgar kindly blurbed the book, writing:
"If he were alive today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would remind us that 'We are the leaders we have been waiting for.' Consider Dispatches from the Religious Left your briefing book on how and why it is important to be a ‘courageous leader’ in these challenging times."
I am glad to see that the Moral Mondays movement is broadly inclusive in its call for justice and that it is taking the long view for the long haul. On the blogger conference call, Barber said he sees a revival in progressive churches as people seek to reclaim the best of the social justice tradition. He says it is the kind of revival that will always take place "when extremists go too far."
Its a new day.